Bare Knuckle Boxing Is Actually Safer than Using Gloves

In a 2007 article in The Independent (UK), sports historian Nicholas Hobbes explains that gloves were introduced to make competitions bloodier and briefer. Gloves distribute a blow, but they also add weight to a punch, making it more destructive:

The Marquess of Queensberry rules took off not because society viewed the new sport as more civilised than the old, but because fights conducted under the new guidelines attracted more spectators. Audiences wanted to see repeated blows to the head and dramatic knockouts.

By contrast, the last bare-knuckle heavyweight contest in the US in 1897 dragged on into the 75th round. Since gloves spread the impact of a blow, the recipient of a punch is less likely to be blinded, have their teeth knocked out or their jaw broken. However, gloves do not lessen the force applied to the brain as it rattles inside the skull from a heavy blow. In fact, they make matters worse by adding 10oz to the weight of the fist.

A full-force punch to the head is comparable to being hit with a 12lb padded wooden mallet travelling at 20mph.[...]

As the bare-knuckle campaigner Dr Alan J Ryan pointed out: "In 100 years of bare-knuckle fighting in the United States, which terminated around 1897 with a John L Sullivan heavyweight championship fight, there wasn't a single ring fatality." Today, there are three or four every year in the US, and around 15 per cent of professional fighters suffer some form of permanent brain damage during their career.


Link via Super Punch | Photo by Flickr user loura used under Creative Commons license

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Gloves do protect the hands somewhat, but mostly from bruising which is no big deal. The real hand protection comes from wrapping the hands, and gloves have nothing to do with this.

In actuality, gloves are there to protect the opponent's face and reduce cuts.

Cuts end fights and shorten careers. Anything boxers can do to reduce or eliminate cuts contributes to the sport.
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It is fact that bare-knuckle fighting is safer than gloved boxing. The human hand is too fragile to withstand the punishment of hard punches for long periods of time. A bare fist may cause more cuts, but the blow is localized, as opposed to spreading the impact over the extended target area. The instances of death were just as well recorded as they are now.
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The point of using gloves are to protect the knuckles as well as the person's face. On human body face is the place which has the most strongest bones. At the same time it is covered with only a thin layer of skin. Most of the body bones are protected with muscle but obviously face hasn't. Also we can improve the muscle strength of any other body part but not the face. If you hit a man bare knuckle on his face there is a high chance of busting your knuckle.

On the other hand, I dont think at that time none of the bare knuckle fighters were at the their highest point of training. May be a few but not all, if they had the same facilities like now they would have killed one person in 1 or 2 rounds. Now days boxers train very hard, using many gym equipments to increase their stamina, strength and power.

Just give this a thought, what would hurt more getting hit by a regular baseball bat or one wrapped with cousin?
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Bare knuckle boxing wouldn't be safer than boxing with gloves. The way the sport is today is the safest way possible when it comes to punching with gloves. The gloves not only protect the puncher's hands, but the amount of cushion they provide does in fact lessen the transfer of force. Also, the weight of the glove actually slows down the punch rather than adding force to it. As for "ring deaths" in bare knuckle, we cannot guarantee how accurate those records are and who knows how many "non-official fight" deaths there were.
Bare knuckle may seem safer, but we are judging this by record not experience. According to "record" it is safer, less people died, there were less brain injuries, etc. But, if experience was applied, you'd would see that there is more reason to those records. For example, punches often didn't land with much force. The reason is because they didn't use much hip rotation or follow through; if they had, they would have been wrestled to the ground, which was allowed in the rules. That alone meant that many punches didn't do as much damage. If we got rid of gloves in boxing today,but kept the rules the same, then the only thing that would "slow the punches down" would be the boxer's own fear of hurting his hands.
Rounds were also different back then as a round was over as soon as someone went down, which happened often because of the wrestling aspect. A round could last 10 seconds if they wrestled soon enough. As for the longer fights that lasted for hours, it was a combination of factors including wrestling, round times, fatigue, and lack of powerful punches. If gloves were removed today, they wouldn't have to worry about wrestling, round times would be set, and they could punch as hard as they wanted and likely do more damage to themselves and their opponents.
I understand where you're coming from with the brain damage argument, but that isn't necessarily the glove that causes this problem. The problem is that fighters are allowed to continue. If they can get up within the 10 count, they can keep going. A boxer could easily have multiple concussions in one fight this way.
Anyway, interesting read and I'm glad to share opinions.
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If you looked at the MMA and UFC pre-cursor Pancrase fighting, they were bare-knuckle fights and many many fighters preferred the open-palmed slap/punch over the fist punch, precisely because if you punch someone in the head, something is going to break and unless to catch someone on the jaw or mash them square in the nose, it'll probably be the hand.

Also in bare-knucle fighting, most punches were thrown to the body/arms/chest for the same reason. You can't punch someone in the head for 15 rounds.

About the injuries, boxing gloves allow for extended rounds of punches being delivered to the head, so while it reduces acutes injuries, like cuts and broken hands, it increase brain-related trauma, which is far worse.
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